WRITTEN ON SATURDAY
In Korea, they’re mad about ramen – noodles in a thin broth. There’s always a whole aisle devoted to ramen in even the smallest of convenience stores, and it’s the ideal quick meal when you don’t have time to cook in between work and rushing out somewhere.
However, I never really got what the big deal was about ramen. I mean, it’s basically super noodles in flavored water! So I wasn’t particularly excited when I read that the speciality food of Fukuoka was ramen, but both Irish Friend Two and I felt that we had to give it a try.
Hot and hungry, we stood outside a mysterious, curtained off restaurant of sorts. Many of the restaurants seem to be hiding behind various drapes and curtains, whether for decorative purposes or privacy of diners, I can’t tell. There was, however, a poster giving us instructions on how to use the restaurant.
1. Please purchase a meal ticket at the machine.
We peeked round the door. Just in front of the mysterious curtained off portion was a machine with buttons and pictures, from which we managed to get our dinner tickets after much uncertainty involving the coins in our purses. (It’s very hard to get used to the idea of coins actually being worth something again, when you’ve got hundreds of them lying around in various places in your apartment. Even the smaller Korean notes aren’t worth enough to stop you casually leaving them lying around like a handful of small change.)
2. Please sit down and circle what you want on the order sheet.
We ducked under the curtain and found ourselves in what looked like an office or bank or something, only more cosy and pleasant. There was a row of cubicles, almost like the old-fashioned private study desks we had in the Sixth Form study hall. We each sat in our own booth, and specified how we wanted our ramen by circling things on the order sheet in front of us. Garlic: half clove… Spice heat: medium… Noodle texture: soft… that kind of thing.
3. Push the button in front of you when you are ready.
As if by magic, hands appeared through the narrow hatch in each booth, and took our order sheets. We couldn’t see their owners, and their owners couldn’t see us. And when the food arrived, disembodied voices told us to enjoy our meal, and thin bamboo screens were lowered over the hatches to give us complete privacy from the staff behind them.
The whole thing was set up so that you didn’t have to see or be seen by a single member of staff throughout your meal. It was strange, but I really liked the concept. And I liked slurping my noodles and knowing that no one could see me making a mess. :)
Oh and as for the ramen… delicious!